Interview with Jennifer Agu

Interview with Jennifer Agu, HR Rising Star and HR Technology Analyst at Arriva

In this blog I aim to showcase great examples of progressive thinking at all levels within our profession and this week I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Jennifer Agu, an up and coming rising star and HR Technology Analyst at Arriva!

Hi Jen, can you give me an overview of your career to date? What’s your story?

I completed my degree back in 2014 in HRM at the University of Portsmouth, during which time I did a 12 month internship at Intel Corporation as a Recruitment Intern. Whilst studying I was fortunate enough to work part time with many fashion retailers, such as Gap, Clarie’s Accessories, River Island and Ralph Lauren where I Iearnt the importance of customer service and developed a love for working in retail. Briefly after graduating I was offered the opportunity to work at Louis Vuitton as a HR Administrator & Payroll Assistant, which was amazing as I learnt a lot and meet a lot of inspirational people who I still keep in contact with now. Working in a luxury retail brand definitely had its perks and at times was challenging. I had to quickly adapt to working in a fast paced environment and learn to deliver on various projects simultaneously. As I was only on a fixed term contract after two memorable years at Louis Vuitton it was time to move on, but I was not too sure what sector I really wanted to work in. Don’t get me wrong I loved retail and everything that came with it, but I was in need of trying something different, I was curious to find out how HR could operate differently within another sector. After much thought I decided to go into the world of Hospitality, it was fast paced and I knew I would be most certainly kept busy, the only difference was I wanted to work for a small to medium sized company where I felt I could add more value within the HR function.

I started my hospitality journey at Ennismore International Management (also known as The Hoxton) in the summer of 2016 as a Talent Coordinator, I belonged to small HR team of two and although my job title was referred to as a “Talent Coordinator”, it was much more than that. I was supported the entire employee lifecycle from recruitment to managing and coordinating inductions, delivering training and assisting with ER cases. Although I learnt a lot in a year and had the opportunity to work closely with creative and innovative people, I felt that I needed another challenge and wanted to work more closely with technology. I noticed how important technology was becoming in relation to HR and the impact it was having. Within all of my previous HR roles I have worked with HR systems but not to extent that I wanted to. With this in mind I started to network with people within HR and attend events that ‘My HR Careers’ would organise, through these events I was able to develop good networks and was put forward for my current role at Arriva, which is a multinational public transporting company.

I started my journey at Arriva in July 2017 as a HR Technology Analyst and although I am only a few months into my role, I am completely loving everything about it, from the culture to the people and mostly importantly my role. This would be the first time in my career where I have stepped completely away from the administrative side of HR and solely focused on systems. At the moment I am helping the business with rolling out an intuitive cloud based system in different phases, which is really exciting.

What a brilliant journey so far, can I ask what you are currently working on?

I’m currently preparing to go back to university next month to complete my MSc part time in Human Resource Management, which I am really excited about. I am also working on starting a blog where I can share my experiences and thoughts during my HR journey and to talk about a range of topics that I feel young adults who are studying HR or Business related degrees could relate too. The aim is to create a platform where the younger generation can connect, inspire and share knowledge with one another and with the help of my blog entries, start thinking about their futures earlier on in their careers. My motivation as to why I thought this would be a great idea was, whilst reflecting on my own experiences during my studies I found that there was a lack of guidance or reliable forums where young adults in my field could seek guidance and advice from people just like themselves. I have plenty more ideas relating to my blog which I can’t wait to share with you all soon!

What’s been the biggest OSM (Oh S**t Moment) in your career so far and what happened as a result of it?

My biggest OSM was when I realised how much of an introvert I was within HR. The only people I knew at the time was my current manager and one or two friends that I studied with on my course. I thought to myself in order for me to connect with people within my industry I need to come out of my comfort zone and start networking. The reasoning behind this was because I wanted to expand my knowledge (outside of my working environment) within HR and meet with likeminded innovate individuals where we could share our thoughts and ideas about a range of topics within HR.

As I was keen to kick start my networking journey I reached out to Karen Beaven, HR Director at River Island via LinkedIn and luckily she agreed for us to meet, which was amazing. I also started to attend HR events that I found interesting which were advertised on the CIPD and My HR Careers website, through doing this I was able to connect with great people within HR from all different industries. Due to these connections I was recommended for my current job.

As a rising star in the world of HR what are you most concerned about regarding the future of our profession?

Good question, for me as I can only talk from experience or what I have witnessed and it has to be developing leaders and managing skills gaps. I find that some companies do not have the resources in place or make sufficient time to develop future leaders whether it be through succession planning or additional training. With this said what tends to happen in cases like this is, long serving employees with good talent tend to look for opportunities elsewhere, which is a shame.

Do you have any thoughts on how we could improve professional education and accreditation for people building careers in HR?

I believe we can improve our professional education and accreditation for people building careers in HR, by providing alternative options to gain HR qualifications to the younger generation from a young age, as from my experience I was taught university was the only way. As tuition fees have drastically increased since 2012 and are still on the rise, most young adults are reluctant to attend university to pursue a HR or business related degree due to the amount of financial debt they will face once graduating. Another option to avoid such debt which I do not feel has been widely spoken about is apprenticeships, this is a great way for people to combine paid work with studying. The student would work for a company but also go to college to study and be supported by an experienced member of staff. Apprenticeships are highly valued qualification and a lot of companies are offering this, if people were encouraged or educated more about HR related apprenticeships this could benefit companies more in the long run.

There’s a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence and it’s impact on the future of work at the moment, what’s your take on it?

Yes, there is a lot of talk on artificial intelligence and the impact technology is having on HR. I feel that if HR wants to continue to play a vital role within a company it must have technology at its core. A lot of larger businesses have started to transition by using modern HR systems, but from my experience this is not the case for small to medium companies and this could be due to cost associated with using HR systems or the notion that the urgency is just not here yet.

I have noticed the cloud is another innovation that is transforming HR in a big way, important information can be stored in the cloud and easily accessed by employees via a computer or cloud based mobile platform without having to speak to HR. A lot of these HR systems help reduce the autonomy from HR and allow managers to be more involved in processes (recruitment, employment relations, talent etc). I feel that due to the demand of having such sophisticated HR systems, this could possibly effect the need to have entry level roles within a business like HR Administrators, as cloud based systems are very intuitive.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

To stop procrastinating and be self-disciplined with yourself in everything you do whether that is getting a project completed or exercising more often, it can be anything but the point is tomorrow waits for no one. I really try and adopt this way of thinking because I do find myself being a “I will do this tomorrow” type of person. In some cases priorities have to be postponed, but at times I have found myself prolonging the efforts of starting a task due to my fear of failure or what people would think of me. Another great piece of advice that I have received is to always challenge your mind, body and soul. Your happiness is always important.

What drives you and how do you keep motivated?

What keeps me driven is my faith in God, my religion plays an instrumental part in my life and whenever I am feeling demotivated or discouraged I turn to Him. My close family and friends also motivate me, I am blessed in the sense that the people who are the closest to me inspire me to not only be a better person but to give 100% in everything I do. Finally, contributing to change and helping others in any way I can keeps me motived.

If you were given £5,000 to invest in a Start Up business what would it be and why?

If I was given £5,000 I would like to invest in a platform that educates the younger generation on a variation of different topics that are not necessarily taught in school. For example, money management, mental health – how to cope with these issues and the importance of networking. I feel like there are a lot of real life topics that are not taught in elementary schools or in higher education institutions, if such a platform were to exist this could make a positive impact to the younger generation.

Is there anything else you want to share or you think we should talk about?

I think it is really important to be authentic and true to yourself, try and surround yourself with people who motivate you, make you happy and keep you inspired. Finally, never stop learning, as knowledge is the key to personal development and growth.

Thanks Jen, great to speak to you, great insights, can’t wait to read your new blog.

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